As an addictions physician at Sunnybrook, Dr. Stephanie Zhou works with individuals from vulnerable communities. Knowing they were more at-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compelled her to volunteer her time as a vaccinator with Sunnybrook’s vaccine clinic, and also to ensure she was offering vaccinations through her family health practice in the Flemingdon Park area of Toronto.
“I think that seeing there is a definite need for vaccinations to protect individuals, especially individuals who live in precarious housing, individuals who use substances, that’s what kind of got me involved in the vaccination effort,” she says.
And, for her, that vaccination effort includes eliminating barriers wherever she can.
When Dr. Zhou noticed there were individuals in the community who were having difficulty accessing credible information about the vaccines because English wasn’t their first language, she worked with a clinic outreach coordinator on a virtual vaccination information session for the Chinese community. They presented information, for Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking individuals, on the vaccines, their safety and side effects to those living in retirement homes and individuals who had an elder family member.
“That way the patient population can understand and [we can] increase vaccination rates in that area,” says Dr. Zhou.
She has also participated in “barrier-free” vaccination clinics that specifically target people in the community who don’t have a health card and may not know they don’t need one in order to get vaccinated.
“The main way to get people vaccinated is just making the vaccine more accessible,” she says, whether that’s with more walk-in clinics, or bringing vaccines to individuals in underserved communities, or having vaccinators who can speak multiple languages.
Dr. Zhou’s vaccination efforts at Sunnybrook and in the community have been met with gratitude from individuals who see their protection against COVID-19 as a way back to what’s most important.
“A lot of people have said that by being vaccinated, they are now able to spend time with their family, their loved ones,” she says. “That’s really nice … to see how the vaccinations can bring families closer.”